More Depressing Middle East Notes

1. Those who think that Israel’s enemies are serious about wanting to bring an end to the fighting have not been paying attention to current events:

It was the start of a three-day truce, the best hope yet to end a 25-day-old war that has taken an enormous toll on both Palestinians and Israelis.

On Friday morning, Israeli troops were in the southern Gaza Strip preparing to destroy a Hamas tunnel, said Israeli military officials. Suddenly, Palestinian militants emerged from a shaft. They included a suicide bomber, who detonated his explosive device. In the chaos, two Israeli soldiers were killed. The militants grabbed 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, and pushed him back through the tunnel, according to the Israeli account.

Within minutes, the war was back.

“The cease-fire is over,” declared Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a senior spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces. Ground operations will continue, he said, “and our aircraft are in the sky as we speak.”

The story doesn’t say whether Hamas was specifically responsible for bringing an end to the cease-fire, but let’s just say that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

2. The following from Jeffrey Goldberg is quite telling concerning the mood in Israel:

. . . There is near-unanimity in Israel already that Hamas represents an unbearable threat. Add in the perfidy of a raid conducted after a ceasefire went into effect and near-unanimity becomes total unanimity. The most interesting article I’ve read in the past 24 hours is an interview with the Israeli novelist Amos Oz, the father of his country’s peace-and-compromise movement, who opened the interview with Deutsche Welle in this manner:

Amoz Oz: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusual way: by presenting one or two questions to your readers and listeners. May I do that?

Deutsche Welle: Go ahead!

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

With these two questions I pass the interview to you.

The point is, if Amos Oz, a severe critic of his country’s policies toward the Palestinians, sounds no different on the subject of the Hamas threat than the right-most ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet, then there will be a national consensus that it is not enough to manage the Hamas rocket-and-tunnel threat, but that it must be eliminated if at all possible. This doesn’t mean that the Israeli government wants to see the Hamas government in Gaza replaced. What it could mean is that the Israeli public demands that its leaders ensure them that the tunnel threat, in particular, is neutralized in a decisive way.

I would only add that it takes a lot of barbarism and savagery to get Amos Oz to sound “no different on the subject of the Hamas threat than the right-most ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet.”

3. More proof that the New York Times is just not a quality news organization:

If you have ever wondered why the New York Times photo coverage from Gaza has almost exclusively consisted of dead and bleeding Palestinian children in Shifa Hospital, with nary a Hamas gunman or missile launch from a school or a mosque to fill out the narrative of events on the ground, the newspaper of record has an astonishing answer: Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Tyler Hicks really sucks at his job.

For anyone who knows anything about photojournalism, the Times’s answer raises some very serious questions about the sanity of the people who are running the newspaper, as well as the paper’s loyalty to one of the greatest photographers of his era who has put his life at risk for the newspaper time and time again in global hot spots and conflict zones.

But according to Eileen Murphy, the Times Vice President for Corporate Communications, the paper’s photographers in Gaza, led by Hicks, are the sole reason for the radical imbalance in the Times photo coverage of the war. Or at least that’s what she told Uriel Heilman of JTA, when he asked the Times to explain why, out of the 37 images that made up the paper’s last 3 slideshows from Gaza, there wasn’t a single image of a Hamas fighter or rocket launch or anything else that might signal to readers that Israel hadn’t simply decided to maim and murder Palestinian children in the coastal enclave for sport.

Incredibly, the first part of Murphy’s answer blamed Times photographers for apparently submitting only a handful of low-quality images:

Our photo editor went through all of our pictures recently and out of many hundreds, she found 2 very distant poor quality images that were captioned Hamas fighters by our photographer on the ground.  It is very difficult to identify Hamas because they don’t have uniforms or any visible insignia; our photographer hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun.

Is this really how a legendary photojournalist like Tyler Hicks operates? Two very distant low-quality images, and nary a sight of a single person carrying a gun in all of Gaza during a three-week long conflict in which over 1500 people have died? If Hicks’ assignment took him anywhere else besides Gaza, one might suspect him of holding up the hotel bar.

The rest of Murphy’s answer provides only a tiny bit of insight into why Hicks’ performance has been so poor:

I would add that we would not withhold photos of Hamas militants.  We eagerly pursue photographs from both sides of the conflict, but we are limited by what our photographers have access to.

The key word in the second part of Murphy’s response, of course, is “access.” Tyler Hicks is hardly lying down on the job: He’s doing incredibly hard and dangerous work in a combat zone where photographers are hardly free to take pictures of whatever they want. Which is the key point that Murphy and her bosses are determined to elide.

What the Times and other mainstream news outlets seem determined to hide from their readers is that their photographers and reporters are hardly allowed to roam freely. In fact, they are working under terribly difficult conditions under the effective control of a terrorist organization which–as the war itself indicates–doesn’t hesitate to maim, kidnap, and kill people that it doesn’t like.

Relatedly, see this post.

4. To paraphrase Brad DeLong, why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why can’t we have better leftist critics of Israel?

The hottest story out of Gaza these days has nothing to do with Palestinians. It’s not about Israelis either. It features no rockets or tunnels or tragically misunderstood secretaries of state. Instead, it is about what is clearly at the core of this conflict, namely the growing ennui some liberal writers are feeling as they contemplate the fluctuating state of their support for Israel.

When attempted intelligently, this exercise is less entirely narcissistic than it sounds. Writing in New York magazine, for example, Jonathan Chait presented a reasonable—if far from uncontestable, as Chait himself fairly admits—account of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and concluded by arguing that responsibility for failing to strike a deal lies squarely on Bibi Netanyahu’s shoulders. If you believe in that story, the war in Gaza comes off as a cynical political maneuver by a desperate politician who, having squandered a wonderful opportunity for coexistence, vies for fighter jets and surges of patriotism instead.

But the further the genre of the soul-searching liberal moved away from a well-lit attempt at interpreting the available facts, the more it sailed up the river and into the dark heart of emotional entanglements, the weirder the pieces became. Jonathan Freedland—whose newspaper, The Guardian, has a tradition of running columns with such jaunty titles as “Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist”—produced his own musing in The New York Review of Books. “The first week of Protective Edge produced awkward statistics,” he wrote. “The Palestinian death toll kept climbing while Israel’s remained stubbornly at zero.” How awkward indeed, and how stubborn those Israelis are for simply refusing to die. And what a challenge they mount to the liberal narrative by investing in bomb shelters, missile defense systems, and smartphone applications to keep its citizens safe while the other side forcefully prevents its civilians from seeking a safe shelter.

Never mind about civilians, however, when something far more important is at stake: Maintaining the purity of the author’s identity as a good liberal as defined by the ever-shifting tides of the high-brow magazines to which he or she contributes and/or subscribes. “When Israelis and Palestinians appear fated to fight more frequently and with ever-bloodier consequences,” Freedland wrote, “and when peace initiatives seem to be Utopian pipe-dreams doomed to fail, the liberal Zionist faces something like an existential crisis. For if there is no prospect of two states, then liberal Zionists will have to do something they resist with all their might. They will have to decide which of their political identities matters more, whether they are first a liberal or first a Zionist. And that is a choice they don’t want to make.”  Naturally, the possibility that the Zionist entity with its civil rights lawyers and free press and internet start-ups is itself much more neatly aligned with anyone’s version of classical liberal values than the medieval ranting of Hamas’s bearded women-oppressing, gay-bashing, Jew-hating missile-launching zealots is never entertained.

Leibovitz goes on to absolutely slam Andrew Sullivan’s horrible and irresponsible coverage of the fighting in the Middle East, and the opprobrium for Sullivan’s lousy blogging and even lousier thinking skills is entirely well-deserved. Read it all.

5. Finally, whatever the blinkered and cognitively deficient “anti-Semitism scarcely exists in the West” crowd may think, the fact of the matter is that anti-Semitism is back with a vengeance:

Across Europe, the conflict in Gaza is generating a broader backlash against Jews, as threats, hate speech and even violent attacks proliferate in several countries.

Most surprising perhaps, a wave of incidents has washed over Germany, where atonement for the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes is a bedrock of the modern society. A commitment to the right of Israel to exist is ironclad. Plaques and memorials across the country exhort, “Never Again.” Children are taught starting in elementary school that their country’s Nazi history must never be repeated. Even so, academics say the recent episodes may reflect a rising climate of anti-Semitism that they had observed before the strife over Gaza.

This week, the police in the western city of Wuppertal detained two young men on suspicion of throwing firebombs at the city’s new synagogue; the attack early Tuesday caused no injuries. In Frankfurt on Thursday, the police said, a beer bottle was thrown through a window at the home of a prominent critic of anti-Semitism. She heard an anti-Jewish slur after going to the balcony to confront her assailant, The Frankfurter Rundschau reported. An anonymous caller to a rabbi threatened last week to kill 30 Frankfurt Jews if the caller’s family in Gaza was harmed, the police said.

The string of incidents comes after Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned anti-Semitic chants from pro-Palestinian demonstrators and President Joachim Gauck called on Germans to “raise their voices if there is a new anti-Semitism being strutted on the street.”

But even as the police have clamped down on demonstrators, banning slogans that target Jews instead of Israeli policies, a spike in violence has spread fear among Jews, not only in Germany but also in other European countries.

But even as the police have clamped down on demonstrators, banning slogans that target Jews instead of Israeli policies, a spike in violence has spread fear among Jews, not only in Germany but also in other European countries.

More Jews have begun leaving France in recent months, following anti-Semitism that has spilled onto the streets since the start of the Gaza conflict almost a month ago. While most of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been peaceful, a small number of violent protesters, many of them young Arab men, has targeted Jewish businesses and synagogues.

French authorities have strongly condemned the violence and, citing public-safety concerns, have refused to authorize a small number of pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Others have spoken of a need to counter anti-Semitism among certain segments of the country’s Muslim youth.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke last week of a “new,” “normalized” anti-Semitism. “It blends the Palestinian cause, jihadism, the detestation of Israel and the hatred of France and its values,” he told the National Assembly.

Even in historically tolerant Italy, anti-Semitic smears have appeared on the streets of Rome. Jewish shop windows in several neighborhoods were defaced this week with swastikas and tags reading “Torch the synagogues” and “Jews your end is near.” Police suspect that right-wing extremists, possibly along with pro-Palestinian activists, carried out the acts.

Incidents of anti-Semitism will only increase and the danger posed to those in Europe will only get worse unless people speak out against this appalling resurgence of one of the oldest forms of human bigotry (and disgustingly, one of the most accepted forms of human bigotry as well). Unfortunately, there are a number of people out there who are bound and determined to pretend that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist, or that it “scarcely” exists. To the extent that they have it in their power to stop instances of anti-Semitism, and to the extent that they fail, the blood of Jewish victims is on their hands just as surely as it is on the hands of those who actually take Jewish lives.

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